There seems to be a popular claim amongst psychiatrists that scary, cruel and other ethically questionable traditional fairy tales are beneficial for the development of a child's mind.

People promoting this theory often quote Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. (NB: I haven't read the book.) According to Wikipedia,

Bettelheim suggested that traditional fairy tales, with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in remote, symbolic terms.

Is is true that traditional fairy stories help children address their fears?


The next sentence in WP's article about Bettelheim reads (emphasis mine)

If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

If true, this statement seems forgotten by most articles I could read on the subject, which tend to follow the first statement literally. This question not being about Bettelheim's work specifically, please disregard this precision.

  • 1
    I don't know why this question was closed and downvoted without any comments. Seems perfectly clear to me. All I can guess is that someone didn't know what the term "structuring" means in the context of child development? But it's pretty self-explanatory Aug 28, 2016 at 22:54
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    The first issue is, indeed, the definition of "structuring" being used here as a noun or adjective. It isn't part of the claim on the Wikipedia page. The second issue is: What sort of evidence would convince you either way? It is a Freudian analysis - I'm not even sure it is an empirical claim.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 29, 2016 at 2:30
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    Thanks for trying to fix the question; appreciate the good faith effort. However, it still has the two problems: (1) you use the word "structuring" in a way that isn't in the claim, isn't in the dictionary, and didn't match any usage I found after googling for 5 minutes. Please define it or (better still) remove it. (2) Yes, a reproduced, large-sample, double-blind, randomised control experiment in a peer-reviewed paper would be nice, but what would the control be? A cohort of children who have never heard a children's story? Seems farfetched.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 29, 2016 at 23:24
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    Sorry, I missed the point indeed — I'm not native English, and I should have challenged this word even though it seemed a perfect translation from the word "structurant" I heard on a French radio program on this topic. I hope it's better now. Aug 30, 2016 at 8:49
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    @Oddthinking there's a whole field of developmental psychology and yes, they do run experiments where different groups of children are exposed to different stimuli over a time frame and then observed or given a task designed to measure a trait. There are also studies based on simply observing natural interactions over time from different cultures, and correlating measurable traits in adulthood with (self reported or parent-reported) accounts of childhood experiences, and many other methodologies. Like any field, none are perfect, but there may be an answer. Aug 30, 2016 at 9:02


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